The oceans have deteriorated because of human exploitation, ignorance and
neglect. The assault on ocean heath is multifaceted and global. Increasingly, environmental action groups have had success in ameliorating the damage.
Some more enlightened governments have passed laws to protect marine environments and developed enforcement infrastructures.
The great Pacific garbage patch was described in a 1988 paper published by
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States.
The description was based on results obtained by several Alaska-based
researchers between 1985 and 1988 that measured plastic in the North
Pacific Ocean. Researchers found high concentrations of marine debris
accumulating in regions governed by ocean currents. The pacific garbage is
similar to other areas of concentrated marine debris in the world's oceans.
These areas of debris accumulation are gathered by oceanic currents. In the
Pacific, the area is bound by the North Pacific Gyre. The gyre's
rotational pattern draws in waste material from across the North Pacific Ocean,
including coastal waters off North America and Japan. As material is captured in
the currents, wind-driven surface currents gradually move floating debris toward
the center, trapping it in the region.
One source of ocean pollution is discarded fishing gear such as buoys,
lines, and nets. A 2011 US EPA report concluded that:” "The primary source
of marine debris is the improper waste disposal or management of trash and
manufacturing products, including plastics (e.g., littering, illegal dumping) .
Debris is generated on land at marinas, ports, rivers, harbors, docks, and storm
drains. Debris is generated at sea from fishing vessels, stationary platforms
and cargo ships." Pollutants range in size from abandoned fishing nets to
micro-pellets used in abrasive cleaners. Currents carry debris from the west
coast of North America to the gyre in about six years and debris from the
east coast of Asia in a year or less. [i]
Schlossberg reported on the small plastic particle pollution of the
Arctic, She wrote:” Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic gets into the
ocean, and scientists estimate that there may be as much as 110 million tons of
plastic trash in the ocean. Though the environmental effects of plastic
pollution are not fully understood, plastic pollution has made its way into the
food chain. A major ocean current is carrying bits of plastic, mainly from the
North Atlantic, to the Greenland and Barents seas, and leaving them there — in
surface waters, in sea ice and possibly on the ocean floor. Most all of the
Arctic plastic, measured by weight, was in fragments, ranging from 0.5
millimeters to 12.6 millimeters. Because climate change is already shrinking the
Arctic sea ice cover, more human activity in this still-isolated part of the
world is increasingly likely as navigation becomes easier. As a result, plastic
pollution, which has grown significantly around the world since 1980, could
spread more widely in the Arctic in decades to come.[ii]
Photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while
remaining a polymer. As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and
smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column and becomes small
enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms that reside near the ocean's surface.
In this way, plastic enter the food chain. Ocean mammals, especially whales
become entangled in nets and other commercial fishing gear and often die unless
they are freed by human rescuers. Commercial fisherman are too often
careless exploiters of ocean life .
Wilkepedia. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Accessed online Feb 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch
[ii] Tatiana Schlossberg.Trillions of Plastic Bits,
Swept Up by Current, Are Littering Arctic Waters. NYT Climate April 19, 2017
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The Author, Stephen Gislason MD
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